by Peter MERCURIO
The story of how Danny and I were married last July in a Manhattan courtroom, with our son, Kevin, beside us, began 12 years earlier, in a dark, damp subway station.
Danny called me that day, frantic. “I found a baby!” he shouted. “I called 911, but I don’t think they believed me. No one’s coming. I don’t want to leave the baby alone. Get down here and flag down a police car or something.” By nature Danny is a remarkably calm person, so when I felt his heart pounding through the phone line, I knew I had to run.
When I got to the A/C/E subway exit on Eighth Avenue, Danny was still there, waiting for help to arrive. The baby, who had been left on the ground in a corner behind the turnstiles, was light-brown skinned and quiet, probably about a day old, wrapped in an oversize black sweatshirt.
In the following weeks, after family court had taken custody of “Baby ACE,” as he was nicknamed, Danny told the story over and over again, first to every local TV news station, then to family members, friends, co-workers and acquaintances. The story spread like an urban myth: You’re never going to believe what my friend’s cousin’s co-worker found in the subway. What neither of us knew, or could have predicted, was that Danny had not just saved an abandoned infant; he had found our son.
Three months later, Danny appeared in family court to give an account of finding the baby. Suddenly, the judge asked, “Would you be interested in adopting this baby?” The question stunned everyone in the courtroom, everyone except for Danny, who answered, simply, “Yes.”
“But I know it’s not that easy,” he said.
“Well, it can be,” assured the judge before barking out orders to commence with making him and, by extension, me, parents-to-be.
My first reaction, when I heard, went something like: “Are you insane? How could you say yes without consulting me?” Let’s just say, I nailed the “jerk” part of knee-jerk.
In three years as a couple, we had never discussed adopting a child. Why would we? Our lives were not geared for child rearing. I was an aspiring playwright working as a part-time word processor and Danny was a respected yet wildly underpaid social worker. We had a roommate sleeping behind a partition in our living room to help pay the rent. Even if our financial and logistical circumstances had been different, we knew how many challenges gay couples usually faced when they want to adopt. And while Danny had patience and selflessness galore, I didn’t. I didn’t know how to change a diaper, let alone nurture a child.
But here was fate, practically giving us a baby. How could we refuse? Eventually, my fearful mind spent, my heart seized control to assure me I could handle parenthood.
A caseworker arranged for us to meet the baby at his foster home in early December. Danny held the fragile baby first, then placed him in my arms. In order to protect myself from future heartache, I had convinced myself I could not, and would not, become inextricably attached. I didn’t trust the system and was sure there would be obstacles. But with the baby’s eyes staring up at me, and all the innocence and hope he represented, I, like Danny, was completely hooked.
The caseworker told us that the process, which included an extensive home study and parenting classes, could take up to nine months. We’d have ample time to rearrange our lives and home for a baby. But a week later, when Danny and I appeared in front of the judge to officially state our intention to adopt, she asked, “Would you like him for the holiday?”
What holiday? Memorial Day? Labor Day? She couldn’t have meant Christmas, which was only a few days away.
And yet, once again, in unison this time, we said yes. The judge grinned and ordered the transition of the baby into our custody. Our nine-month window of thoughtful preparation was instantly compacted to a mere 36 hours. We were getting a baby for Christmas.
We spent that year as foster parents while our caseworker checked up on us and the baby’s welfare. During that time we often wondered about the judge. Did she know Danny was a social worker and therefore thought he would make a good parent? Would she have asked him to adopt if she knew Danny was gay and in a relationship? At the final hearing, after she had signed the official adoption order, I raised my hand. “Your honor, we’ve been wondering why you asked Danny if he was interested in adopting?”
“I had a hunch,” she just said. “Was I wrong?” And with that she rose from her chair, congratulated us, and exited the courtroom.
And that was how we left it, as Baby ACE became Kevin, and grew from an infant to a boy. That is, until 2011, when New York State allowed Danny and me to legally marry.
“Why don’t you ask the judge who performed my adoption to marry you and Dad?” Kevin suggested one morning on our walk to school.
“Great idea,” I replied. “Would you like to meet her?”
“Sure. Think she’d remember me?”
“There’s only one way to find out.”
After dropping Kevin off, I composed a query letter and sent it to the catchall e-mail address listed for the Manhattan family court. Within hours, a court attorney called to say that, of course, the judge remembered us, and was thrilled by the idea of officiating our marriage. All we had to do was pick a date and time.
When we ventured back to family court for the first time in over 10 years, I imagined that the judge might be nervous to come face to face with the results of one of her placement decisions — what if Kevin wasn’t happy and wished he had different parents? Kevin was nervous too. When he was a toddler, Danny and I made him a storybook that explained how we became a family, and it included an illustration of the judge, gavel in hand. A character from his book was about to jump off the page as a real person. What if she didn’t approve of the way he turned out?
Kevin reached out to shake her hand.
“Can I give you hug?” she asked. When they separated, the judge asked Kevin about school, his interests, hobbies, friends and expressed her delight that we were there.
When we finally remembered the purpose of the visit, and Danny and I moved into position to exchange vows, I reflected on the improbable circumstances that delivered all of us to this moment. We weren’t supposed to be there, two men, with a son we had never dreamed of by our side, getting married by a woman who changed and enriched our lives more than she would ever know. But there we were, thanks to a fateful discovery and a judicious hunch.
Peter Mercurio is a playwright and screenwriter whose latest screenplay is “Found (a True Story).”